Friday, 12 April 2013

3 Swiss in Nyanga


Connemara lakes and World's View

I slept quite early this night, and woke up just before seven. I had plenty of time so I watched an episode of Southpark before going out to breakfast at 8. I had packed my bags the previous night. Watching out of the window, I saw the weather hadn't improved from the previous day, and it seemed to be quite fresh. Nevertheless, I decided to be optimist and put on a short. At 8 I went out to the dining room to join Claudia and Marco for breakfast. They had already made tea and I brought out and prepared the toasts. Once we had finished, we finished packing, brushed our teeth and left northwards in direction of Nyanga.

cottage and car
From Mutare the road to Nyanga soon splits from the one to Harare. It's something like a special road that almost only goes to the park. At one of the numerous roadblocks we were stopped by one of the ZRP officers. He asked us if our radio was a radio and when we agreed it was one, asked where our radio license was. It had happened before, when I went to the Matobos, that a policeman had asked for the radio license, but I wasn't responsible for the car at that time. I don't know if it is a real law or just a make-up law, but the police seems intent to raise some funds with it. It cost us USD 10.

The Nyanga National Park lies in the Eastern Highlands in Zimbabwe. The height ranges between 1800m and 2500m above sea level. The climate is similar to the one in England.

The warden in the misty drizzle
The weather was drizzly and the fog covered the sky for most of the time. We had been advised to look out for accommodation in Juliasdale, about 20 km south of Nyanga, but driving through there we discovered a very small place with only the Montclair Hotel and Casino which was way out of budget. Not knowing how the car would behave on the tracks in Nyanga, we didn't want to take an accommodation there anyway, if we wouldn't stay around. So we drove on and eventually arrived to Nyanga NP. The fog was getting worse and made it all look like a Scottish or Jura landscape. Arriving at the NP office we talked to the officer working there and asked him if our 2WD would take us around the park. He said that we could go to a trout culture, an old village and Nyangani Mountain which is the highest mountain in Zimbabwe. The whole rest of the park is only accessible by a 4WD vehicle. Especially with the weather not being too sunny, we didn't know if we should expect heavy rain or not. The drizzle already made the roads slippery, and on some slopes we might just not get through. Then we asked him about accommodation and he poured out a variation of prices, bed numbers, rooms, etc. that was quite confusing. The only thing he seemed to be sure was that some roads are pretty bad, others quite OK and the entry fee of USD 5 for residents, 8 for SADC and 10 for all others.

Tea time to escape the cold
We decided to first go buy some supplies and eat something in the town of Nyanga some kms further north out of the park. There we briefly looked at other lodges and asked for prices. But being outside of the park, we would either have to go to the park only once, or pay twice if we came back the second day. We first went to eat some sadza and stew (for Marco and me) and sadza and soup for Claudia that we took in in a place called Food Inn. Next to it was a local supermarket where we didn't buy anything, but asked where we could find vegetables. We still had rice, oil and spices. When we found the market place, it was actually quite busy in comparison to the town center where there were only a few people around. There were shops, stalls with vegetables, stalls with clothes, bars and bottle stores and so on. We bought some tomatoes, apples, cucumbers, avocados and an onion for veggies and beers for drinks. After that we drove back to the park entrance, but not before checking out a lodge on the other side of the road. But at some point the track to the lodge went down very steeply and we were afraid we wouldn't be able to get back up if it rained more.

Nyamziwa Falls
At the entrance, the same officer awaited us and made us pay the resident's fee (USD 5 per person, and USD 3 for the car). Then we drove to the information center where we booked our accommodation. We opted for a 2 bedroom cottage with electricity for USD 60. The lady at the desk said that it would cost us a certain price if we weren't residents, but never said how much. For a whole cottage, the price was really OK. It is sometimes difficult to find the cheap accommodation and as we already were residents for the officer at the gate, we had to go through with it anyway. The lady saw that we weren't but didn't say anything more and didn't ask us any IDs.

Tough roads for a 2WD
The drizzle got even worse while we talked and while we drove to the said cottage, about 8 kms further in the park. At first the road was almost all flat and really in good condition, but after a while we had to ascend a steep bit, and then descend a steep bit. The descent worried us most as we would have to bring that car back up there the following day. But now we had the cottage, we decided to go and see the next day. It wasn't pouring hard, it was still just drizzle. After finding number 5, the best looking house, and apparently the only one available for the night, we quickly carried everything inside.

In the house, there was electricity for the light, and there were two plugs in the kitchen. One for the fridge, and one for the kettle. The heating and the cooking was by fire. Luckily we weren't there in wintertime with temperatures going down to -3°C because the house isolation was nonexistent. The windows were single glasses and some doors and windows had up to a centimeter of opening when closed. But otherwise the cottage was like one that you would expect to find in an English countryside. The weather and climate here seemed to be the same as well. Thus we spent our time here indoors making and tending to the fire, playing cards, writing blog articles and cooking yet another fine meal. We weren't looking forward to going out in this drizzly windy weather. We hoped that the next day would be much better. We even asked Innocent, the caretaker here, if he was going to make it a sunny day and he said that he definitely would. So that's all settled.

Dip at Brighton Beach
At 9 the lights went out and we thought they cut the power every day. Not much later we decided to go to bed as there wasn't much more to do and we were quite tired anyway. But it was only one of the numerous power outages and the lights were back a while later. The heavy sheets were keeping us warm and we slept quite well.

The next morning I woke up around 7 and went out to the living room to meet Marco who was already making fire. It was still a bit misty, but much less than the previous day. Marco met Innocent, the caretaker, outside the house when he started out for a walk and asked when we had to leave the cottage. As usual the time was 10. So we decided to wake up Claudia, make breakfast and get ready to leave. We had Innocent take the cottage's key instead of bringing it back to the main gate because we wanted to drive around the park first. The sun was out and the mist all gone when we finally left the cottage.

Mare Dam
We started to visit Nyamziwa Falls which are the only falls accessible with our car. The falls were nothing spectacular and we didn't stay for long. We just took a few pictures and left again on the dirt tracks. We drove all the way to the office where we quickly told the wardens we had left the key with Innocent because we wanted to visit the park before going out. They weren't too happy about it. After that we went down to Brighton Beach, which is a small strip of sandy beach of about 10 to 20 square meters next to a river. Marco and me put on our Bermudas and went in. It was quite cold, but no less than 15°C, I think. It was quite bearable. There is no ice in those mountains. When we were finished cooling off from the “heat” (no more than 25 °C in the sun, and less than 20°C in the shade), we had a picnic lunch of untoasted toast bread, cucumber and tomato. We then made a quick jump to Rhodes Hotel which was Cecil John Rhodes house to start with. It was nothing spectacular and the view was blocked by all the trees. We then decided we've had enough of Nyanga NP and left the park aera.

Early panorama of Connemara lakes 

The next place we visited was World's View which lies somewhere above Troutbeck, which itself is a few kms north of Nyanga NP. In the Lonely Planet we read we just had to follow the signposts to find the way, but again, the LP was not up to date. There were no signposts indicating World's View from the main road. After passing it once and going on to Troutbeck Village, we turned around and tried another dirt road. After a while we finally found a signpost that showed us we were on the right road. We drove on for a while and were astonished at the number of private properties on the way up. The road was about 10 kms long but was in quite good condition. Once up there we thought we would have to pay USD 5 per person to get access to World's View if there actually was anyone to take in the fee. In fact it happened that it cost us only a dollar per person. The Lonely Planet was not up to date again. When are they going to rewrite the Zim chapter ? World's View is an absolutely great view. Much more than World's View in the Matobo's. Although the boulders in Matobo's are amazing, the view itself was not that impressive. In Nyanga, World's View is high above lower lands and offers an amazing view over it for a long distance. I took 13 minutes to climb up to the almost highest point from where I got an even better view on the land and over the Connemara lakes.

Me on top of mountain at World's View
Around 3 we left the place and took less than two hours to drive back to Mutare, where we went to eat at Nando's and gave the key of our trustworthy Toyota Sprinter back to its rightful owner. We asked him about the radio license and he told us he had it, but forgot to give it to us. Thank you. We tried to get some money back for the 20 liters of fuel that were still in the tank, but he said he didn't have any money with him, and that he would see us in the morning. I would be gone, so I wouldn't know. But I don't think anyone of us would ever see a cent for that fuel.

We spent the rest of the evening talking about traveling and especially about my next step and what could be expected in South or Central America. I wanted to go to Malawi, but the visa costs USD 150 and there isn't that much to do. I wanted to go to Zambia, but the transport there is said to be even worse than in Zimbabwe for independent travelers and the cost of living even higher. A budget accommodation costs USD 50 in Lusaka according to LP. What choices do I have ? I definitely will go to Harare, and from there to the Chinhoyi Caves. But after that, who knows ? I might go to Guatemala or Mexico to learn some Spanish ? But after all, just pay the USD 150 and go to Malawi over Zambia. See you there.